A statement by ‘Arbeidersstemmen’ (March 15, 2020)
The sudden succession of emergency measures taken by all governments in the Western hemisphere, presumably to counter or “control” the spread of the Corona-virus pandemic, as the stock-markets repeatedly crash, a recession of the world economy is underway and public life is increasingly disrupted, pose many questions.
In a first statement the ‘Arbeidersstemmen’ blog tries to take up the most urgent of them, relates the first manifestations of workers’ reactions to the state of emergency in crisis- and virus-ridden Italy, and puts forward some points of reflection to encourage workers of engaging in a collective struggle.
Are the governments late in taking measures against the spread of the Corona-virus?
From China to the US, and from Italy to the Netherlands:
The governments of all states have failed to contain the spread of this virus.
The present variant of the Corona virus, like the previous one – which caused the 2003 SARS epidemic in Asian countries – was created by the transfer of animal viruses to humans via markets where living wild animals are traded. In Wuhan the current epidemic arose around such a market, which was tolerated by the Chinese state. Just as the Dutch state did not react to Q-fever among people living next to goat farms, the Chinese state at first silenced the Corona-virus epidemic for economic reasons. It then sent millions of migrant workers from industrial areas back to their home areas for the celebration of Chinese New Year. With New Year, a lot of money is being spent in China and the economy, which was already suffering from slower growth, would continue to go down without this spending impulse. In this way, the Corona-virus could spread out massively in China, because for these so-called communists the interests of the capitalist economy are paramount and not human lives.
It is no different in the USA. Trump denied the problem of the impending pandemic, then it suddenly became a problem, but the blame was put on foreign countries, first of all China and Europe.. In Italy, in Spain, in the Netherlands, everywhere, measures are only taken as the epidemic was already spreading.
Is the Corona-virus pandemic causing an economic recession?
The recession was already there.
Now they’re hiding the capitalist causes behind the pandemic.
Now they declare that the Corona pandemic is causing a global recession. But before the first Corona-virus infections occurred, countries in South America, in the Middle East, in Africa had already been affected by the first signs of the global recession, which economists had long expected. In those countries, there were huge mass demonstrations against the disastrous effects of the crisis on the population. “Corona” is used to present the capitalist economic crisis now affecting Europe and North America, as the consequence of a quasi natural phenomenon. But economic crises are a catastrophe that periodically affects society as long as capitalism, with its economic ups and downs, exists and as long as it is maintained.
The first measure against the economic crisis consists of pumping billions into the world economy, just like in the “Sub-prime” crisis of 2008/2009. These billions will eventually be paid by the workers, but they are given into the hands of the big companies. That too is quite normal in capitalism.
And the workers? They have to keep on working as much as possible, first and foremost, of course, in the care sector – often with a lack of protective equipment, are forced to work overtime, under heavy moral pressure. Those who can work from home, do so . This is how Hong Kong and Singapore, where the financial sector dominates, were able to prevent massive infections. But in the USA and in Europe, despite the risk of infection, workers have to continue working in production and transport, even where it is not vital for the population. The interests of employers take precedence over those of employees. What’s that called again? A class society!
And if the entrepreneurs are no longer able to make a profit, as is typical of the crisis, then the employees get a reduction in their working hours, a reduction in salary, eventually dismissal, a further reduction in their income, until they end up in the misery of those who have been living on benefits in addition to a few hours of paid work or compulsory ‘voluntary’ work. That is what awaits employees. And that’s why all states are using the Corona-virus pandemic to experiment with a return to open repression, as in China, everywhere with nationalist calls for “now all together” (with the entrepreneurs and the state), with closures of all kinds of events and meeting places, far too late to prevent the explosion of infections, but in time – they hope – to prevent massive protests and even discussions about the situation among the workers by themselves.
Do we have to swallow all this as inevitable?
A first report of resistance from Italy:
The first reports of resistance come from Italy. On 8 and 9 March, in the overcrowded prisons revolts against the unhygienic situation broke out throughout Italy. On the morning of March 12th, “workers in hundreds of factories and companies went on strike and left their workplaces. All in non-essential production. The slogan ‘we are not lambs for slaughter’ spread like wildfire. The demand of these workers is, at the very least, that working conditions should be adapted in line with the health warnings to limit contagion, warnings that should apply to everyone.”
There are many reported cases of workers being threatened with the sack just for asking for the corona-virus regulations to be applied. The message from the bosses is “shut up and work even though we can’t offer you even the minimum conditions to guarantee your health”. This seems to be the slogan of the bosses everywhere, which has sparked the spontaneous strikes in Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, and Puglia. Hundreds of factories have stopped working.
“And it is not just in the factories and the warehouses. The same goes for the delivery riders. The government has taken care to ensure that the delivery of meals at home will not be suspended, but has done nothing to ensure these workers are safe. It’s the same for supermarket workers, who often work without gloves and without masks, or with Do-it-yourself masks, because the firm does not supply the proper ones. Likewise there are umpteen more or less essential workers who, like those in healthcare, find themselves working without clear instructions and procedures for their safety. The irrationality and arrogance of the State and of the system is once again only, and always, revealed when it comes to those who work. A different, but equally serious, emergency comes from the tens of thousands of precarious non-essential workers and cooperatives who have stopped working and are stuck at home without pay.” (1)
What now, and what after the pandemic?
When the pandemic is over, economic recession and pressure on salaries, employment, social services and care will continue. The class struggle will be continued by the state and entrepreneurs. That is why it is necessary to ask ourselves:
Why is personal responsibility insisted on when the necessary protective means and information are lacking? Why do we accept to work without adequate protection against infections?
Who are responsible (also personally) for the lack of personnel in health care and education, even before the Corona pandemic existed? Back then, there was supposedly no money for care and education, there was money for weapons, now suddenly there are billions to keep the capital afloat?
Why should we accept job losses and loss of income when billions are being transferred to businesses for the state, and spending on jet fighters and naval ships continues to rise?
Why should we rely on political parties and trade unions that have taken – and continue to take – responsibility for the deterioration of workers’ lives, or that divide us by blaming the weakest workers, refugees and other minorities for the problems?
To bring forwards our own demands, let us rely on our independent strength as employees: action committees, meetings in the workplace and on the streets, elected and revocable representatives, massive struggle!
Blog Arbeidersstemmen, March 15, 2020
Translation & update: March 18, 2020
Last changed: March 19, 2020
1 Source: Italy: “We’re not Lambs to the Slaughter!” Class Struggle in the Time of Corona virus. (I.C.T., March 14, 2020)